CNMI Rep. Gregorio Sablan speaks before the U.S. Senate committee hearing on
the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act on Tuesday.
Washington, D.C.— A congressional bill that that would add 10 years to the current labor transition period in the CNMI and make 8,000 extra CW permits available for next year would ensure the commonwealth’s continued economic growth, the legislation’s authors said.
“This bill would spur us into getting a Northern Marianas economy that would have U.S. workers as the main workforce,” CNMI Rep. Gregorio Sablan said at the conclusion of the U.S. Senate committee hearing on the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act on Tuesday. “Third country nationals would come in to fill the gaps, where there are really no U.S. workers.”
Sablan authored the U.S. Workforce Act in the U.S. House of Representatives.“We wanted to be sure the economy would have workers. Our bill does that,” Sablan said. “We wanted to be sure that more Americans would be getting jobs. Our bill does that, too.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, committee chair, introduced a similar bill in the Senate. “While I am willing to support extending the transition period, I remain committed to the intent of the transition, which is to increase the number of U.S. workers in the CNMI economy while reducing the dependence on foreign labor,” she said.
The CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Program is scheduled to end in two years. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services last year announced the reduction of the CW1 cap for FY 2018 by 3,000, bringing down the number from 12,998 for FY 2017 to 9,998 to the current fiscal year. They also revealed the caps for FY 2019 and 2020 (until Dec. 31, 2019) to 4,999 and 2,499, respectively.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, committee member said the proposed U.S. Workforce Act “effectively promotes continued economic growth for the Marianas, but also imposes additional safeguards to make sure that protections are in place for workers.”
Sablan told the panel that the U.S. Workforce Act is premised on two policy goals that should find broad agreement in Congress: 1) that the Marianas economy should have sufficient labor to continue growth; and 2) that the Marianas labor force should increasingly be composed of U.S. workers.
The Workforce Act extends the current transition period for ten years, to 2029, and resets the cap on Commonwealth-Only Transitional (CW) Worker permits to 13,000. The bill also includes new protections for U.S. workers to ensure they are not at a competitive disadvantage with foreign workers and adds safeguards for foreign workers against exploitative or predatory labor practices.
Speaking for the Trump Administration, Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Douglas Domenech said, “The Administration would be open to supporting legislation that facilitates the hiring of Americans and reduces CNMI’s overall reliance on foreign labor by requiring a responsible, explicit wind-down of CW-1 visas to zero.”